Here is our monthly edition of our Agony Aunt column, brought to you by our very own Jade Benn. The questions below are a reflection of the most popular issues that you have written in to us about, this months topics are Sexuality and Substance Abuse.
Please continue to write in to us about anything you wish and we hope to feature your concern in next months segment.
Q: Me and my girlfriend have been dating for a while now, it’s been just over 2 years, but she doesn’t want to tell her parents about us. She says she’s from a strict African household and they’ll disown her if they find out that she’s gay. I want to be with her, but I feel as though I’m her dirty little secret.
Coming out is the process of telling people that you are gay.
What should I do?
A: I’m sorry to hear this. It is sad that you guys have made such a significant investment (in terms of time) in to a relationship, and you are now wondering if her parents’ opinion could be a deal breaker for the two of you. Fortunately, you both have several options and a multitude of things you should consider personally.
For you both
1. What is the end goal? You should have a conversation. If you mutually agree that you want to be with one another long term (or maybe even go as far as to speak about marriage) then a compromise needs to be made. She needs to accept herself and move towards accepting her parents may not agree, and that is okay. You will not be together in secret forever. At the same time, if you do agree you are going to be together long term, you need to feel reassured that you can be patient and it won’t mean you are a secret. Try and understand the culture and her family’s beliefs (maybe religious). If she loves you she will feel far worse than you do.
2. If you mutually decide that you actually may not see a long term future with one another, then I suppose you’d both begin to reassess and reconsider what commitments you are making to one another in the present. It’s important to make your feelings clear to your partner, but also be sure to list to her wants and needs also. Sometimes people end up in relationships for different reason so it’s vital to check that you’re both on the same page, however, if you’re not, then you have to make the decision to stay or move on, but remember whatever you do, you have a choice!
3. Does she see herself adhering to what her parents want and eventually marrying a man? If this is the case, then maybe you need to find out exactly what sacrifices she is and isn’t will to make. It’s not easy to go against your parents wishes, so understand that your partner will find this situation just as difficult as you do. Try to support her as much as possible but if she isn’t will to go against them, you shouldn’t force her to. She needs to be ready and willing because it is a big change that may impact her life going forward. Do your best to encourage her to have that conversation first before assuming her parents reactions. Understandably, it may be a confusing and possibly challenging time for the both of you, but clearly you both need answers.
You may want to direct her to some useful resources around coming out to parents which can be found here.
1. Consider if your girlfriend is keeping you a secret from EVERYONE (friends, other family members such as more understanding cousins perhaps etc), or if are you focusing on the fact that she is keeping you a secret from her parents. Try and focus on the positives in this situation – often we focus on OUR ideals of love, respect and standards in relationships but we have to consider the values and beliefs of the people we choose to be in relationships with.
2. What could you do to make her feel more supported and comfortable in her sexuality? Are your parents, friends and family accepting of you and her? Maybe you should bring her around your friends and family more to encourage a greater sense of confidence and support. This may empower her to face her parents.
If your concerns persevere in your relationship with your girlfriends ability to feel comfortable and confident as a woman in a loving relationship with another woman, there are several groups and organisations that are created to assist with these obstacles such as Stonewall and BGIOK.
Q: I have a best friend and me and him are really close. But lately I’ve noticed that he isn’t taking care of himself like he used to. He’s recently started smoking weed, we both did, but it seems as though it’s taken over his life and I’m afraid he might go on to harder stuff. He’s hygiene is slipping a bit because of it, he smells a bit frowsy sometimes at college, his clothes look unwashed and he starting to loose weight. He’s my boy, we’ve grown up together since we were in primary school but I don’t know how to confront him.
What should I do?
A: Thank you for geting in touch, I’m glad that you have been able to identify these changes in your friend’s personal hygiene and behaviour.
Firstly, I think you should make him aware of what you have mentioned. Meet up with him at his house (preferably) or yours and approach the subject raising all of the observations you mentioned: the body odour, his decline in personal grooming and his weight loss.
I do not know you or your friend, but i’m assuming that having a good healthy looking body and being well groomed are important, remind him of these common beliefs that you both shared, and ask him what he thinks is going on to cause the changes. One thing you shouldn’t do is jump to attack him with the weed smoking – he may not yet see an issue with it, or he might and just may not be ready to acknowledge it as a problem yet. By you stating your disapproval, he might feel he can’t come to you if there is an actual problem. The aim of this initial conversation is to 1. Make him aware of the problem with his grooming and see him make some changes and 2. Find out if he sees an issue with his weed smoking.
Also, it may seem like that is the most obvious reason as to why he has been acting or dressing in a certain way, but there may be bigger issues, so bare that in mind. Have a conversation with him about life and how he’s feeling currently as he may be going through or dealing with something that you’re not aware of – so don’t always jump to conclusions, despite how logical they may seem to you on the outside.
As a friend, if you genuinely believe it is the smoking that is causing problems, you need to stop encouraging it. When you guys meet up outside of college, don’t encourage smoking as part of your activities. Try and suggest other things that make it hard or impossible to smoke such as sports, music events or clubbing held in venues that wouldn’t permit smoking. These activities may encourage him to take care of his personal hygiene far more, and will give him an opportunity to meet new people with other interests.
Hopefully these small things are all that is needed to make a difference to his situation. If not, I would urge you to seek a closer and more professional intervention including family and perhaps your college. Possibly even refer him a local substance misuse organisation or services in your area or to Frank or Addaction.
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